Auntie Doris’s That’s Swearing #3: Heavens to Betsy/Murgatroyd

Meredydd Evans“Heavens to Betsy”is nowhere near strong enough for me. It just doesn’t reach the parts that a good “Ruddy Nora” or “Flaming Henry” does. It is a phrase which my mother would use, but only in the sort of circumstances that got her mildly flustered, “Heavens to Betsy” she would say “I didn’t realise we had so little flour left, and I was going to bake a cake” or “heavens to Betsy, Doris. What on Earth have you been doing to get your bedsheets so twisted and crumpled!”
Most people think that this phrase is American in origin, but actually, like my mother, it’s history lies in Wales.
In the mid 1800s, Meredydd Evans was probably the most sinful man in Mid Wales. Tales of his debauched carryings on were well known around the valleys. He worked building the railwys, and would spend any money that came into his possession on hard liquor, and if he ran out of money he would steal more. He would pester the women of Cardiganshire for sexual favours, and if they could not be coerced into obliging him, he took pleasure in the company of sheep. He would fight with any man who got in his way, and if they were tougher than he was, he would use a knife. He swore, he lied, and he didn’t look after his teeth properly either, so when he laughed in the faces of people who tried to stand up to him, both the sight and the smell of them was ruddy awful. He was completely wild, and completely untameable, until he met Geriant Jenkins, known as the Apostle of the Aberystwyth, for his work amongst the poor souls who laid the rails in Cambria.
Jenkins, with his courteous acceptance of all manner of men, however far they might have fallen, somehow managed to bring about a fundamental change in Evans’ behaviour and outlook. He got him to give up the drink and debauchery, and read the bible. He got him to clean up, and perform charitable acts as pennance for his sins. Eventually he got him a job as sexton at the Church of St Mary at Betws-y-Coed in the North. Betws-y-Coed, (twinned with Gyrrwch yn Ddiogel in Finland or somewhere) was a peaceful town which had grown in size somewhat after the railways came. Importantly, no one in the area knew of Meredydd Evans’ wicked past there and he became a respected figure in the local community.
However his tale lived on in the light mid Wales curse “Evans to Betws-y” which was used to indicate surprise at some unexpected transformation or surprising occurrence. It survives today as “Heavens to Betsy”
Some versions of Meredydd’s story have him ending his days at Merthyr Tydfil, working on the restoration of St Tydfil’s Church. The phrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd” is clearly something that has evolved from the phrase “Evans to Merthyr Tyd”
Some situations where “Heavens to Betsy” or “Heavens to Murgatroyd” might be used.
(i) When a cake or has risen more than was expected in the oven, and it has run down the sides of the tin and caused a bit of a burned cakey mess.
(ii) When the midwife delivers triplets, and you were only expecting one larger than normal baby.
(iii) When you go to the lavatory only to discover the seat in the upright position and wee all over the floor.

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